5 frames with...

5 frames with an Agfa Silette I and Ilford HP5+ – By James Mitchell

December 27, 2018

I had been to a gig at a local music venue at which the bouncer had nearly not let me in because of my little micro four thirds camera. He asked me if it was “professional”, which apparently means anything with interchangeable lenses. Through a combination of playing dumb and genuine confusion I got in anyway, but there was no way I was going to risk it again. My fiancée and I had bought tickets for us and her parents to see Christine and the Queens at the same venue a couple of weeks later.

The Agfa Silette has a 45 mm lens with apertures in full stops from 2.8 to 22, and four shutter speeds: 1/125, 1/60, 1/30 and bulb. It’s also zone focus, has no light meter, and is probably the least “professional” camera I own, and therefore ideal for my urge to stick it to the man. It can also be a bit awkward ergonomically, as there’s not even a hint of a grip and the shutter release is a lever that seems to travel for miles.

I actually love it though. It weighs nothing and fits in my jacket pocket. The lens is fast enough for most purposes, and anything faster would be useless with zone focusing. It’s also pretty sharp, and magically seems to hit focus anyway, despite what I always assume is terrible guesswork. It was a gift, too, so it means something to me.

I had meant to get some faster film, but ended up picking up a roll of Ilford HP5+ in a rush from a pharmacy on the way to the concert. I got past security without incident and sat down. We were quite far from the stage, so I focussed a little short of infinity, set the exposure to f/2.8, 1/30 and pretty much left it there, as my 400 ISO film needed as much light as it could get. I happily snapped away, trying the occasional long exposure leaning on my knee. Halfway through I was cursing myself for not picking up  another roll. I had only four shots left. For an encore, Chris came and sang something intimate from the balcony, about 3 metres from me. I took my last shot. Someone put their phone right between me and her face. Life goes on.

As my shots were unmetered and pushing the film, I decided to stand develop my film, which as far as I’m concerned means it magically doesn’t care about film speed. I’ve got it to work before, but this time development was a bit uneven. Because of the massive contrast between a lit stage and the unlit backs of the audience’s heads, large areas are black. What isn’t black is pretty grainy, but I’m actually pleased with how they turned out.

Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the pictures too. You can find me on Instagram, posting fewer film images than I would really like.

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  • Reply
    December 27, 2018 at 3:21 pm

    I have had a number of similar cameras :an Agfa Sillette and some Ilford Sportsmans. So far I’ve had absolutely no joy out of them save for 3 usable shots between all of the cameras. I think fast film is a must as I’ve had weird results with Velvia 50, Agfa Vista Plus 200 and Fuji C200. I love what you achieved from your little unit. Despite not getting any decent images out of these cameras I’m minded to keep hold of them because they not only look great but they feel beautifully weighted and give a lovely feedback. I’ll put some HP5 of Trix through one and see what happens. Thanks for writing this post

    • Reply
      January 11, 2019 at 9:34 pm

      I’ve only put hp5 through mine and stand developed because of the latitude this provides; using Velvia was brave! I hope you get some good results!

  • Reply
    Ian Gillett
    December 28, 2018 at 10:19 am

    My parents bought me an Agfa Silette I when I was around 12 years old (1965) while we were on holiday in Llandudno, Wales. I loaded it with Kodachrome 25 and, after I had read the camera instructions which said I should use a high shutter speed to avoid camera shake and to stop the lens down to maximise depth of field, proceeded to take all my photographs at 1/125 s @ f22 – I didn’t have a light meter or know about the ‘Sunny f16’ rule. Needless to say all that you could see in my photographs of waterfalls was a very dim image of the ‘splash’. I recently bought a replacement Silette I and am looking forward to trying to get some photos with it. Here’s hoping I don’t embarrass myself again! Thank you for the inspiring article and accompanying photos!

    • Reply
      January 11, 2019 at 9:37 pm

      I’m glad you liked it! I’m lucky that all the cameras I learned on had auto exposure! I hope your Silette is as good as mine!

  • Reply
    Andrew Cotterill
    December 28, 2018 at 7:50 pm

    good results for such a dark room – on basis of that I might try sneaking in a Rollei 35B/800 to a gig (weighs even less) although worried if security find it, would I get it back?

    • Reply
      January 11, 2019 at 9:40 pm

      I confess a large part of the reason I took this is that it’s an inexpensive camera and would only be sad to lose to security rather than heartbreaking!

  • Reply
    5 frames with a Canon A-1 and TRI-X - By James Mitchell - 35mmc
    June 12, 2019 at 10:10 am

    […] Contessa which is beautiful but has an out of alignment rangefinder), a bit basic (the Agfa Silette I have written about before) or unreliable (would you trust a Kiev 4 with anything you love?). I have a couple of modern, […]

  • Reply
    Ian _
    November 10, 2019 at 11:32 am

    Thanks for an interesting article. My first camera was a Silette, a 13th birthday present in 1977, and I had my first picture published two years later, taken with it. I still have it, but haven’t put film in it since the mid-80s. I still exercise it regularly, and found an original manual for it on ebay not so long ago. You’ve inspired me to put a roll of film through it!

    • Reply
      November 10, 2019 at 11:41 am

      Thanks for reading! I hope the roll of film comes back well!

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